A masterpiece of inclusion: Ferguson Farmers Market community garden

  • Published: Sunday, April 11, 2021

FERGUSON, Mo. – Many dabble in the art of gardening, but Ron Brown takes its meaning to a new level.

One of his masterpieces is the accessible garden he has designed for participants in United Cerebral Palsy Heartland’s day programs.

Brown, a resident of Ferguson, Missouri, is well known in the community for helping design the community garden next to the Ferguson Farmers Market. A nonprofit he founded, Friends of the Market Community Garden, provides volunteer efforts and programming in support of both market and garden. The garden was his first project after completing his Master Gardener training through University of Missouri Extension in 2018.

Shortly after, UCP Heartland asked for his help developing an accessible garden space and activities for clients at its adult day care center. Brown said he knew immediately that the project was going to be a big part of his life.

Since that first contact in 2019, Brown has transformed part of the community garden into an area where UCP Heartland’s day program participants can learn and thrive. The program, Brown said, is part of Friends of the Market’s mission to help people “become more self- reliant, build their self-esteem, give them something to do they haven’t been able to do before.”

Raised beds make gardening accessible for many of the participants who use wheelchairs. Brown convinced the city to donate a nearby house that had been slated for demolition. He converted two rooms for hydroponic gardening using reclaimed PVC fencing and installed an accessible kitchen and bathroom.

Brown hosted the very first group from UCP Heartland on March 3, 2020. The group made birdhouses out of gourds with the goal of selling them at the farmers market. They scraped the seeds out of the gourds, planning to come back to paint them and plant the seeds. Brown realized each person’s individual skills and created tools that made the work easier for them. “They all smiled, I cried,” he said.

Shortly after that visit, UCP Heartland closed due to COVID-19, and the program remains on hold. Nevertheless, Brown learned a lot from that first Friends of the Market event and has big plans for the future. He is exploring the idea of doing a “virtual learning” program and establishing a monthly rotating schedule for interested UCP Heartland clients and caregivers to enjoy the garden when in-person activities resume.

Meanwhile, Brown, other Master Gardeners and volunteers are planning their activities for about 12 weekends of the 2021 farmers market season. They hope to continue with their traditional spring and fall plant sales, a food booth where they serve breakfast and lunch, and a Master Gardener answer desk.

“I like the farmers market in Ferguson because it’s very inclusive, it’s very open,” said Master Gardener Jim Morrison, who says the market provides a much-needed opportunity for like-minded people to get involved in the community.

Brown has donated produce to local restaurants throughout the pandemic and will continue to do so after. Residents can rent out one of the 15 non-raised beds for only $10 a year.

Brown’s countless hours of work throughout the pandemic show just how dedicated he is to the art of building community through gardening. Brown is prepared for the day when UCP Heartland can start up with the Friends of the Market program once again.

You can visit the Ferguson Farmers Market at 501 S. Florissant Road, Ferguson.

The market operates 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays from May to October. For more information, visit www.FergusonFarmersMarket.com.

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Photos available for this release:

Before the pandemic, UCP Heartland clients and staff enjoyed a day making birdhouses out of gourds.

Program participants turn dried gourds into birdhouses and plant the seeds for next year’s garden.

Ron Brown prepares for the 2021 growing season.

Friends of the Market Community Garden renovate space for indoor gardens and storage.

Writer: Caitlin Reitz

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